We Americans are fiercely protective of our rights: take them away, and face our wrath. President Obama condemned a shooting at Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris – a response to the printing of an offensive image of Muhammad – as a flagrant violation of the right to free speech. Yet the incident has left a question lingering in the mind of the American public: should there be limitations to free speech?
Founded by the desire for freedom, America has accordingly fostered rights in order to protect said freedom – rights so valued, even the government nor fellow citizens can deprive individuals of them. However, the global attention to the recent massacre of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s workers by Islamic terrorists has only further questioned this freedom.
“Free speech is what defines a free nation; take that away, and a country is on the road to a dictatorship,” Sophomore Vincent Nguyensaid.
Although some people support restrictions on the freedom of speech to prevent rampant and often offensive mockery of an individual’s ideological and religious views, history has made evident the hefty role freedom of speech has had in sculpting a more democratic nation. Thoughout time, leaders have silenced the voices of their subjects and the press in order to maintain their autocratic and oppressive rule. Even in the mid-twentieth century, the Gestapo of the Nazi regime, the NKVD of Stalin’s reign and the Stasi of East Germany were all key examples of forces used to silence the freedom of speech. It was these people, under these regimes and in silence, that demonstrated the importance of voice.
In the past few decades, the freedom of speech has rapidly solidified and grown to become a critical tenet in a just world. Its value would logically suggest that it continue to be nurtured and protected at all costs.
For some, this belief had only grounded even further on Jan 7 when twelve lives were lost to the mass shooting of Charlie Hebdo. The primary motive of the attack is considered to be Hebdo’s previous cartoons which ridiculed and repeatedly insulted not only current Islamic leaders but the religious figure Muhammad himself. The caricatures of these individuals were often depicted rather vulgarly with explicitly racist and sexualized content.
The deaths of Hebdo’s victims is without a doubt both unjustifiable and tragic. The religiously offensive material the magazine had often released were not valid grounds to kill. In silencing the lives of those who endeavored to publish their voice, an increased urge for the freedom of speech seems warranted.
If an individual chooses to completely side with that position, he or she must also recognize and defend the protests and bigotry of Westboro Baptist Church, a religious organization renowned for its often insensitive anti-gay and military funeral picketings. Even with numerous lawsuits, Westboro has repeatedly employed one’s right to the freedom of speech as security against legal prosecution. Though voicing one’s opinions, whether it be through voting or even online blogging, has proven its necessity in political or moral justice, it can serve as a double-edged sword capable of unfortunately harming others for all the wrong reasons.
Charlie Hebdo’s material certainly exercised the freedom of speech; however, in doing so, the magazine offended and indirectly ridiculed the faiths of countless individuals all across the globe. Did ridiculing a religion and its leaders justify the deaths of the Hebdoemployees? It is a resounding “No.” However, humans as a whole must recognize the impact of words and expression even more so. The freedom of speech — of expression, of the self — should not have to be sacrificed in its entirety; instead, it seeks a deeper understanding of its power so that society both now and in the future can have a life in which opinions are not only allowed but respected and used to better humanity’s very own future.